Monday, November 29, 2010

Review of The Samaritan’s Secret by Matt Beynon Rees (2008, Soho Books)

Omar Yussef, a history teacher, has travelled with his family to Nablus in the West Bank to attend the wedding of Sami Jaffari, a local policeman. Jaffari has been asked to investigate the theft of a valuable scroll from the synagogue of the ancient Samaritan sect, and takes Omar Yussef along to visit the important religious site. Whilst meeting the head priest, the body of a young Samaritan is discovered murdered after apparently being tortured. His interest piqued, Omar Yussef sets out to discover the murderer, soon finding himself in a complex web of politics and the rivalry between two Muslim groups – Hamas and Fatah – and a race to discover the location of 300 million US dollars of aid from the World Bank.

The first two books in the Omar Yussef series are great reads, especially The Collaborator of Bethlehem. The stories are well told, multi-layered, had a good balance of back story, history and political context, and evoked a strong sense of place. The Samaritan’s Secret, however, seemed quite direct and a little flat in comparison. The narrative jumps right into the story and then runs at a steady pace. The plot idea is strong, but the telling lacks some of the craft of the first two books. I also felt the story suffered from a couple of credibility issues. The story works on Omar Yussef being embedded in certain networks (which is fine), but too many times I kept asking myself why all the various actors, from all sides, were prepared to confide in him. Yes, he’s a genial character, but he’s also a stranger to many characters and conspiracies work on secrets. I therefore found it difficult to believe that he could so quickly and effectively work his way to the centre of the action. That all said, the concept is good and it’s an entertaining read. I think part of the issue is that the first two books are so good that Rees has set himself a very high bar to reach in subsequent outings. This is always going to be a challenge. In Omar Yussef, Rees has created a great character and I’m looking forward to the fourth outing.

1 comment:

Bernadette said...

I agree that the first two are excellent and it's not surprising that Rees can't quite maintain the standard. Still I have this one on the TBR and am looking forward to reading it as I do enjoy Omar Yussef.